The professional sports industry is a marriage of capital and talent, a partnership between owners and players.
Owners prefer the more traditional employer-employee model, but that just doesn’t fly in show business. Marvin Miller proved that point during his pioneering run as head of the Major League Baseball Players Association.
Athletes in other team sports followed the MLBPA lead and fought for partnership standing. That fight continues today, as we see with the National Hockey League's lockout of its players.
NHL owners are demanding a concessionary collective bargaining agreement. The NHL Players association is hanging tough under the leadership of Donald Fehr, a Miller disciple.
Miller's passing Tuesday triggered a celebration his career and his transformational role in the sport. Ballplayers like Jon Jay and Daniel Descalso of the Cardinals rushed to Twitter to play homage while the pundits assembled columns to honor his legacy.
Here is a sampling of what they wrote:
Jeff Passan, Yahoo! Sports: “For a radical, Marvin Miller was something of a square. He spoke not in the fire-breathing rhetoric of a revolutionary, which he most certainly was. When he walked into a room full of baseball players, he addressed them softly and deliberately, letting facts tell his story. And those facts led them to one conclusion: They weren't changing baseball. They were changing the sporting world. No union anywhere can compare to the Major League Baseball Players Association, which is funny seeing as the MLBPA is the most oxymoronic of all: a union of millionaires. And the MLBPA is the standard bearer of unions everywhere because of its cohesion, yes, and because of ownership's missteps, sure, but more than anything because of Marvin Miller and his facts.”
Joe Posnanski, Sports on Earth: “Miller is where it all began. Miller was the sun and the moon of one of the great sports fights of the last 100 years -- the fight for players' rights and players’ salaries. This was a difficult fight for many reasons -- but perhaps most of all it was difficult because people just didn't think players were being treated too badly in the old days. Hey, they were getting paid for playing baseball (and football and basketball and so on). The lot of them were paid better than the working man, and the best of them were getting paid more than the President of the United States. Yes, they were bought and sold and traded like cattle, and, yes, they simply had to rely on the benevolence of baseball owners when negotiating contracts, and, yes, they had no freedom of movement and could be discarded the instant they had run out of use. But, they got to play a children's game for a living -- it was hard for most people to get beyond that.”
Scott Miller, CBSSports.com: “Marvin Miller was equal parts economist, union man, agitator, conscientious objector, revolutionary and pit bull. He was all parts for the ages. It is no stretch to place Miller alongside Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson as middle-of-the-lineup hitters in baseball's history of transformative figures. That he was never elected to the Hall of Fame is a blatant injustice. Ruth single-handedly dragged the game out of the Dead Ball Era. Robinson literally changed its face forever with his first steps into Ebbets Field in April 1947. And Miller, the old players-union boss who passed away at 95 on Tuesday, is the godfather of free agency and creator of the modern business model that still guides today's players. How appropriate that he leaves the bargaining table now, and for good, at the dawn of another winter of the free agency that he engineered.”
Jon Wertheim, SI.com: “If Miller aroused loyalty and gratitude from his constituents, he triggered proportionately strong contempt in other precincts. Some baseball purists saw him as an antichrist figure sullying a sacred pastime, turning players into mercenaries. The St. Louis Globe-Democrat once opined that Miller, ‘would do baseball a favor if he disappeared or got lost or found the nearest hole and jumped into it.’ For all the issues that divided club owners, they were in accord when it came to their opinions on Miller.”
Thomas Boswell, Washington Post: “Miller will remain a man of one great fair-mind idea, one simple cause and a long line of tough victories that inspired athletes in every other sport to follow suit. Though none has approached the record of Miller’s union. Personally, Miller was an easy man to respect but not an especially easy one to like. If you were in his union, you probably named children after him. But, acerbic by nature, he tolerated only one opinion if you were an outsider: his own. If you played devil’s advocate, that brought you perilously close to the Devil himself in Marvin’s eyes. Maybe all original crusaders share that trait. ‘Rest in peace’ is the least apt epitaph for Miller. That’s exactly what he never let anyone do. By upsetting the peace, constantly, he changed American sport forever.
MYSTERIES OF THE UNIVERSE
Questions to ponder why wondering which Saint Louis University team will show up at Washington tonight:
What's worse than getting arrested while wearing a Teletubby costume?
Some thoughts on the wonderful world of sports:
- What does No. 1 look like in college basketball? Amazing, as everybody who watched Indiana run over North Carolina would agree. The Hoosiers played fast and well, doing all the small things well while running a clinic for the young Tar Heels. You almost felt bad for North Carolina watching this show. Almost.
- Another sign of what Mizzou is up against in SEC football: Reports swirled Tuesday that Arkansas was willing to pony up $27.5 million over five years to steal Les Miles from LSU. This remarkable offer addressed the following question in my Monday live chat: “Why is Arkansas a better job than Missouri?”
- On the other hand, Kentucky made an appropriate hire by landing Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops. The Younger Stoops follows his brothers into the head coaching ranks to learn the ropes at a starter school. His career goal: Somehow get the Wildcats into a minor bowl, as Rich Brooks did, and then flee for a better gig.
- The Michael Dixon Saga is quite a dilemma. A criminal investigation of Dixon’s actions determined there wasn't a strong enough case to prosecute. This conclusion is not the same as exoneration -- although investigators didn’t see the need to interview Dixon for his side of the “she said, he said” incident.
- As SLU fans know, student conduct boards don’t operate within the same“reasonable doubt” guidelines as our legal system. So this is a tough call for the school’s administration. Mizzou has taken a hard line on student-athletes who misbehave. The school has run off front-line performers in the past. It will do it again in the future. From a distance, reinstatement seems like the more likely outcome . . . but again, chancellor Brady Deaton is in a difficult position.
“Boy, I would love to watch them play if it wasn't against my team. You look down the lineup and Cody Zeller, he's family to begin with, he's really a load to handle, and two other guys that I didn't even hear of when they were in high school, they just kicked our rear ends.”
North Carolina coach Roy Williams, after Indiana trounced his team 83-59.